Non League – Not always friendly.

1 Apr

In recent years there’s been a widespread view that non-league football provides the perfect antidote to the big business of Premier league, a refuge for those either thoroughly disillusioned, priced out of grounds, or both. Countless books and articles have been published detailing the author’s quest for the ‘soul of football’ at various one-man-and-is-dog venues.

In these accounts the non-league game tends to be characterised as friendly and as warm as a toasted teacake; It is there that we can find lifelong fans sporting scarves not purchased from a club superstore but knitted by their mums, turnstile operators who regale you with stories of the glory days of the past, chatty tea ladies who call everyone ‘love’ or ‘duck’ and where, win or lose, everyone gathers in the bar afterwards for a nice pint.

The events at FC United of Manchester bring into focus how the myth of non-league as a warm and friendly world and the more messy reality collide. To sketch out the story FC United was formed in 2005 by Manchester United fans disillusioned by the Glazier takeover. Broadly, its aim was to be the very antithesis of the corporate behemoth Manchester United had become; FC United would be fan run, democratic and above all focused on serving the community. The enterprise has, in many ways been a success and the club has found itself in the Conference North with a brand new £6.3 million ground. A recent article by Daniel Taylor in The Guardian however, suggests that there is now an element of disharmony at the club which is “part of a story featuring legal action, resignations, protests, gagging orders and the overall feeling that FC are locked in an identity crisis.”

Following non-league over a few years I’ve noticed there is another side to the non-league game which is rarely, if ever, remarked upon. Visit some online message boards connected to a club and an underbelly of trolling, bullying and bickering can come into view. At one local non-league club I’ve seen a manager in a state of despair following a campaign from an individual launching a series of personal attacks – in the managers words “throwing hand-grenades” – via the clubs message board, behind the cover of a pseudonym. The manager himself only read posts, but the Director of Football was an active forum member and made a habit of becoming involved in online altercations with fans. Elsewhere at another local side any stories about them on the website of the local paper are almost always accompanied by a sniping comment from someone who appears to be nursing some kind of vendetta against the clubs management. Journalist Ian Ridley’s Floodlit Dreams, a memoir of his brief reign as Chairman of Weymouth, also describes how the atmosphere around a club can turn toxic.

In part such acrimony can arise because people care, they want their club to be successful and they have opinions about how best to achieve that – which in some cases may be more realistic than others. Another factor is that the distance between fans and the players and management is much smaller at non-league; The manager of a Premier League team is unlikely to heed one voice from the stand, or to spend much time sifting through message boards, but at non-league fans opinions are more likely to be heard and to have an impact. On one hand this is good, but on another it can mean that those running, or helping out at clubs  doing so as a labour of love question why they bothered in the first place when those offering criticism do so in a less than constructive manner. Equally in the non-league game you will find plenty of egos who don’t always take even well meant criticism particularly well and who seek to run clubs as mini fiefdoms.

This is not to say that the non-league game is a state of perpetual strife and continual Game of Thrones style power struggles; It is not, but neither is it always the warm, friendly place it is made out to be. As FC United shows even high ideals and a democratic structure do not prevent conflict, although the ideals of community and participation may yet provide a pathway out of it.

 

A Brief History of Football Blogging

25 Feb

The coming of the bloggers

At the very end of 2010 the website of The Guardian newspaper carried an article entitled 100 football blogs to follow in 2011 in which the articles author James Dart, asked rhetorically whether the forthcoming year would be the year of the blog. His conclusion was that it very possibly would be, pointing to the evidence of a range of blogs “which have grown, improved, developed and cross-pollinated in recent time” and which dealt with subjects ranging from football finance to the ins-and-outs of Slovakian football. It was a high point – even a golden age – for a format which few had heard of a decade before, so where had these bloggers come from?

The term ‘blog’ was itself coined in the late 1990s, originating from a fusing of the words web log. Early blogs were essentially journal-like posts hosted on the internet which tended to be organised in chronological order and took personal issues as their topic. In its early days blogging was something of a niche activity as in 1996 in the United Kingdom only 4.1 out of 100 of people had used the internet in the past year. This figure though would though rise rapidly to 26.8 out of 100 by the year 2000 and 70 out of 100 by 2005. Alongside this the coming of online tools, such as Livejournal and Blogger, launched in 1999, and WordPress in 2003, made creating blogs even easier.

As well as increasing in sheer numbers blogs also expanded in their range of topics; Politics, Technology, Cookery, Film, Music, Fashion as well as other sports all became the focus of bloggers and their blogs. In football blogging there were some echoes of the much celebrated fanzine culture of the 1980s where fans created DIY publications which they distributed themselves either via mail, or by selling copies on street-corners on matchdays.

The ‘zines as they were known were in their time heralded as transforming football discourse, giving ordinary fans a voice which was used to kick back against those in power, such as club owners and a hostile government and blogs such as Twohundredpercent, which focused heavily on the financial travails and mismanagement of clubs, appeared to follow in a similar vein. What really marked out the bloggers though was the sheer diversity of topics. Numerous sub-genres flourished alongside one off oddities. Blogs could be found on almost any football related topic; Football finance, football kits, football tactics, ground-hopping, music and football, football manager the game, stadium architecture, chips at non-league football grounds, and finally blogs dedicated to football in various nations and regions around the world whose entire footballing effort would have previously merited little more than a few lines in the pages of World Soccer. By the late noughties this whole scene was coming to maturity and at the top end blogs such as In Bed With Maradonna had established a clear brand image matching the traditional media for upholding quality editorial standards. Successful bloggers also gained large followings on the internet as a result of their writing. By contrast many traditional media outlets had been slow to embrace the internet and their online efforts at the time compared poorly.

Who were they?

As for the bloggers themselves, very little is known however, some US based research presents a few clues; A survey of 214 sport bloggers carried out by the John Curley Centre for Sports Journalism at Pennsylvania State University, published in 2009, found that 9 out of 10 sports bloggers were male with many being under 30. The researchers also found that the majority were college graduates, though fewer than 1 in 5 had a journalism, or communications degree. Similarly the 2011 paper focusing on eight prominent sports bloggers which cites the John Curley research found one common theme among participants was that the majority had what the authors termed ‘good educational pedigrees’, but despite this they had expressed dissatisfaction with the jobs they had just prior to their sports blogging careers. This may well suggest that for at least some blogging was an outlet for educated individuals, produced by successive expansions in further education, who felt their newly acquired skills were underused in the conventional labour market.

What did they achieve?

So what exactly was the impact of these educated, but directionless young adults? To answer the question one must look back to the recent past; Ahead of the Euro ‘96 semi-final meeting between England and Germany The Mirror newspaper ran a front page headline which read “Achtung! Surrender!” with the strapline “For you Fritz, ze Euro 96 Championship is over” If this was not excruciating enough the headline was accompanied by pictures of Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce’s heads, sporting superimposed WWII style helmets. At the same time the bespectacled, pyjama wearing character ‘Statto’ with his interest in facts and figures was singled out as a figure of derision on the popular Baddiel and Skinner show Fantasy Football League. Both cases reflected the state of mainstream English football journalism. While there were of course exceptions, it was in the main both insular and anti-intellectual. The bloggers offered the perfect antidote to this producing writing which revelled in both intellectualism and internationalism. Analytics became the new cool as bloggers discussed nuances in tactics and on-pitch performance measures – Statto was having his revenge.

Two decades on from the Mirror’s headline the mainstream of English football writing is virtually unrecognisable. The influence of the bloggers over the past decade been apparent as the mainstream has absorbed their style and content. This can be strikingly overt such as The Guardian newspaper which has entered into partnership with some bloggers to reproduce the content of their blogs via the Guardian Sports Network.

The not so good
The impact of the bloggers has however, not been universally welcomed. Bloggers can be seen to pose a challenge to both the authority and livelihoods of traditional journalists. In 2013 Barney Ronay of The Guardian foretold the death of the traditional journalist at the hands of the amateur blogger:

At a time of rare and delirious expansion, football journalism in its traditional form is also facing the spectre of its own slow death. Not because nobody wants to do it any more, but because everybody seems to want to do it at the same time. It is hard to imagine this process in other day jobs: the suburban milkman setting off on his morning rounds and finding hundreds of other people already patrolling the dawn streets on rickety box-car floats quietly leaving their own bottles of home-brewed white liquid on the shared doorsteps, brushing past him on the driveway as he stands, a little bewildered in his dairy apron, just lingering long enough to mutter something barbed about traditional milkmen being finished…

Ronay’s concerns are not unfounded. In the past few years a number of journalists have found themselves unemployed – a situation which has arguably not been helped by the competition they face from an army of amateurs prepared to do their role for little, or no financial reward. On the other hand traditional journalists have managed to defend the exclusivity of the access they enjoy to the games key figures whilst bloggers do not appear – at least for now – to be threatening the status of the elite group at the top of the sports-writing hierarchy.

A more cutting criticism can though be made that despite increasing the number of voices in circulation the football blogging movement did little to increase the diversity of those voices. Like traditional-media sports writers, football bloggers were overwhelmingly white and male. This lack of diversity arguably finds itself reflected by the fact that whilst blogging explored many niche subjects issues such as race, gender, sexuality and discrimination received little attention.

The end of blogging?

But has blogging had its day? In 2014 a crisis of confidence arose as a number of prominent football bloggers began asking whether football blogging was over. They pointed to the loss of prominent and popular blogs, to bloggers giving up because of boredom, burn-out or lack of time, and to the incursion of the mainstream into football blogging territory. Elsewhere, from across blogging genres, there were also reports of a drying-up of comments on blog posts. With few reliable statistics it is always hard to verify such anecdotal evidence and it is possible to find contrarian viewpoints that football blogging continues to be in good health, but nevertheless the feeling that something had changed was there.

For some it was not necessarily a clear-cut case of doom and gloom. Instead they pointed to an evolution taking place in blogging. This development – like that which gave rise to the blogs – was down to technological changes; Smart phones with high quality cameras and video recording capability, faster internet speeds and platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have opened a new genre which had come to be termed ‘micro-blogging’; More visual and easily digestible than traditional text-based blogs micro-blogging is far less time-consuming for its authors whilst the social-media configuration enables easy sharing and allows large numbers of people to engage in an open conversation. Unsurprisingly football related micro-blogs have proliferated ranging from football kit designs, pictures of grounds, analytical graphs, football stickers and images from old video games.

More disputed is whether such evolution is a good thing. Whilst some may celebrate the expanding reach of blogs and point to the added dimension the use of micro-blogging can provide established blogs others may regret the dumbing down and loss of quality compared to what may be regarded as football blogging’s golden age. If anything though this evolution underlines the impact technology continues to have on football writing and suggests that the future for both the bloggers and traditional journalists is far from being settled.

Corinne Diacre: Quietly achieving revolution in the Auvergne

4 Jan

In Clermont-Ferrand, capital of the mountainous Auvergne region of France, football has always been a poor second to Rugby. Whilst the towns rugby side boasts an illustrious history, more latterly becoming French Champions in 2010 and European Champions Cup (Formerly Heineken Cup) runners-up in 2013 and 2015, its football team, Clermont Foot, can only offer up a third-tier championship won in 2007 and which gave the club the membership of Ligue 2, French football’s second tier. It was therefore quite possibly the first time that football had upstaged rugby in the town when Clermont Foot appointed Helena Costa as first-team head-coach in May 2014, and in doing so grabbing the attention of the world’s media keen to hail a historic moment.

The appointment of Costa had indeed been ground-breaking; She became the first ever woman to be appointed as head-coach of a men’s team in the top two divisions of any professional European league. Instrumental in the move had been the agent Sonia Souid – also involved in the first ever remunerated transfer of a French Professional Woman’s player between two French clubs – who viewed the appointment as an opportunity to create real change in the world of football.

Although there were some who claimed that the appointment had been a publicity stunt on the part of the clubs president, Claude Michy – no stranger to such things – it was though clear that Costa boasted a not unimpressive set of coaching credentials. These included a masters degree in sports science and a UEFA coaching licence. Costa had also worked as a scout for Celtic and coached Benfica’s male youth teams as well as the women’s national teams of Qatar and Iran. Her CV also included a stint of work-experience under compatriot Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.

To those hoping for change however, there came a major blow when Costa quit barely a month into the job claiming that she had been effectively sidelined, being, she said, little more than a “face” to attract publicity. Among Costa’s complaints were the arranging of pre-season friendlies and players being signed without her knowledge as well as a series of emails to the clubs technical director going unanswered. A press conference in the wake of the departure only added to the impression that Costa’s appointment had been a false dawn for gender equality when Michy made a number of unenlightened-sounding remarks: “She’s a woman,” he said. “They are capable of leading us to believe in certain things and then… She simply said, ‘I’m going.’

This though was not the end of the story. Michy wasted no time in appointing another woman as head-coach. This time it was Corinne Diacre, a 39 year-old former French International defender with 121 caps to her name. Captaining the side she had also had a period as the national teams assistant manager and had managed Soyaux, her old club, between 2007 and 2013. As with Costa Diacre’s appointment caught the attention of the world’s media with much of the coverage focusing on her gender. Not all of this was welcome and according to Michy some reporters were even asking questions such as at what time did she enter the dressing room.

For Diacre the continuing focus by elements of the press on her gender, rather than on her actions as a coach, has proved something of an irritant. Over a year into the job, she has though established a track record with which her work can be judged objectively. In her first season the club finished in 12th, an improvement of 2 places on the previous season, but so far her second season is proving to be something of a revelation. The approach of Christmas saw Clermont firmly in the race for promotion to French football’s top tier, Ligue 1, and at the time of writing the team sit in third place – no mean feat for a club which has such a small budget.

Diacre’s work received recognition in both an extended contract in September, committing her to the club until 2018 and at the end of the year being awarded the title of Ligue 2 manager of 2015 by the well-regarded weekly publication France Football. Diacre told the magazine that promotion would not just be a personal triumph, it would, she said be a just reward for club president, Michy, who she credits with taking a risk on her appointment and continuing to provide her with his backing.

It is though a small irony that much of the worldwide attention on Diacre and Clermont Foot has evaporated and once again, in the Auvergne, it is rugby which receives the higher profile. Diacre’s moment of triumph is therefore unlikely to be as widely reported as her appointment, but this is an achievement in itself as Diacre is unlikely to want any more than to be seen as just another coach of a football team.

Is the Premier League becoming more equal?

1 Jan

CV graph

Any conversation about the Premier League this season will invariably include an observation that it is ‘a strange season’ as the established order we have all grown used to has shown signs of a shift. Leicester at the top of the league table instead of battling for relegation, Manchester United trailing Crystal Palace, last seasons champions Chelsea going from bad to worse? Has the world been turned upside down?

For some this seasons results are due to a structural shift towards greater equality. In The Telegraph Paul Hayward writes in an article titled The Premier League has become the new NFL – volatile, rich and thoroughly equal “Once an immutable parade of four or five global corporations, with occasional interventions by Everton or Spurs, the Premier League has emerged from the latest deluge of television money more competitive, unpredictable, meritocratic, intriguing and fun.” There is even talk, such as on the blog Just Football, of a new middle-class of clubs, of which Leicester are said to be a member.

An article in The Economist, Why The English Premier League Has Been Turned Upside Down however, suggests that rather than any long-term structural change what we’re seeing is more likely the result of rapid innovations in tactics and the result of, in Chelsea’s case, a lack of summer transfer activity combined with fatigue impacting on the form of key players.

So what is the long-term picture? A while back, in an attempt to come up with a measure of competitiveness which allowed me to compare different leagues, I calculated the coefficient of variation of league wins. This is calculated by working out the average number of league wins, along with the standard deviation (SD), a measure of spread. The SD is then divided by the average to produce a percentage. A high percentage means that the number of league wins is more spread out, and therefore the league can be said to be more unequal whilst a low number shows that, the number of wins recorded by each club over a season is closer to the average, and therefore the league is more evenly balanced.

While there is a degree of fluctuation going all the way back to the 1983/84 season we can see the long-term trend over this period has been for the coefficient to increase, suggesting that inequality has been rising, notably so in the Premier League era; In 1983/84, for instance, the coefficient was 27.1, whilst it peaked in 07/08 at 46.8. The league, much like society, seemed to have become infused with a greater inequality between those at the top and the rest.

The past few seasons however, have seen something of a slight fall in the inequality. In 12/13 the coefficient was 46.8, 44.6 in 13/14 and 40.2 in 14/15. For the current season, up until the end of 2015 the figure stands at a slightly higher 41.8. So the league taken as a whole this season is not any more competitive than last season. But despite this  apparently downwards trend it is hard to really tell whether this is a long-term change, or just short-term fluctuation, so we can’t rule out either the Hayward hypothesis, or the Economist alternative – or at least not yet.

Interestingly making a comparison with the other major European leagues  shows that currently the Premier League is more evenly balanced than the rest. To a greater, or lesser extent almost all of the big leagues have seen a rise in inequality in recent years and at the end point of 2015 it is in fact the Bundesliga which is the most uneven with a coefficient of 49.1. The figure for Ligue 1 is also interesting as whilst at 46.7  it doesn’t stand out in the group, but between 2004-05 and 2012-13 its highest coefficient had been 38.4, and for most of the time it had been around the mid-thirties. This change is unsurprising though as what had been an open league has become increasingly dominated by one club, Paris St. Germain, who last season won the treble of league, cup and league cup.

European league coefficients (2015/16  season up to 31st Dec 2015)

Bundesliga 49.1

Ligue 1 46.7

La Liga 47.5

Serie A 43.5

English top division coefficients (15/16 up to 31st Dec 2015)

83 84 27.1
84 85 31.8
85 86 39.2
86 87 30.5
87 88 39.7
88 89 31.0
89 90 30.6
90 91 34.8
91 92 25.9
92 93 23.9
93 94 38.1
94 95 37.8
95 96 36.7
96 97 32.3
97 98 31.7
98 99 33.7
99 00 38.0
00 01 35.8
01 02 42.2
02 03 35.6
03 04 39.4
04 05 46.2
05 06 42.2
06 07 39.7
07 08 46.8
08 09 44.0
09 10 45.3
10 11 33.7
11 12 43.8
12 13 46.8
13 14 44.6
14 15 40.2
15/16 41.8

 

 

 

 

Counting the cost of Football

9 Dec

How hard is it to establish the cost of supporting a football team? Well, it seems that it is more difficult than first appears. Just take the BBC price of football survey which has recently come in for some criticism from The Ball is Round blog.

To recap the price of football survey has been running for a few years. Clubs are contacted and asked to provide pricing information about some of their tickets – most notably the most expensive and cheapest match day tickets and season tickets they have on offer.

This focus on just the ends of the pricing spectrum can though be problematic according the critique offered by The Ball is Round who demonstrates, with the example of West Ham, that ticket pricing is rather more complex:

At West Ham United for instance, the cheapest ticket is apparently £25, which it is for the pre-Christmas game versus Stoke City. The game before, versus West Bromwich Albion the same seat would cost you £45 (for a ‘Category A’ game this would rise to £70). To therefore report the cheapest ticket is so low is simply misleading.

This is a valid point. Whilst the figures for the cheapest and most expensive tickets illustrate the maximum and minimum points of a clubs price range they are rather less revealing about the amount that most fans can actually be expected to part with to see their team.

This is perhaps a point the makers of the survey are acutely aware of as unlike the 2014 iteration in the 2015 survey the larger 13 page report available on the BBC website does actually provide a figure for the ‘most popular matchday ticket tier’ which at West Ham is £51-£60. Better, for sure, but still this is somewhat vague: What does ‘most popular mean’ and just how many tickets are priced outside this bracket?

From a methodological perspective one solution to the question: what do most fans pay to watch a team would be to calculate an average ticket price, but far from being easy this is actually a task of huge complexity. The reason for this is that ticket pricing has become hugely complex. Returning to West Ham there are three categories of matches and six pricing bands for each: Bands 1-4, Restricted View and Accessibility. Added to this there are also different prices for members for category A matches.

Calculating the average price of a West Ham ticket would involve using all this information. We would, for instance, need to know how many tickets were available at each price, for each match throughout the season. This would then give us an average ticket price, but just to add an extra layer of complexity this figure would not be the actual average paid in reality by fans. To calculate this we would need to take into account the number of seats which were sold at a discounted price to members, or other concessions (for simplicity the BBC survey focuses only on the price of an adult ticket available on the day of a match – in many cases there will be no available tickets). This information would not be available until after a season has finished. In many cases too this information may not be publically available, or clubs may not wish to disclose it.

Which moves us onto the other criticism levelled at the survey by The Ball is Round, notably that it is clubs themselves providing the information. This can in some cases bring in questions of how reliable the information is, but in their description of the methodology the BBC reveal that though the clubs were asked to provide the information this was then verified by journalists at the BBC. Once again to look at West Ham’s figures the information supplied tallies with what is available on their website. It also seems unlikely that clubs would set their ticket prices in an attempt to deliberately ‘game’ the survey as there is as of yet not a great deal of importance placed on the results. On the whole it appears too that clubs have been quite happy to cooperate, with only Swansea city declining to take part.

To be sure critiques like those offered by The Ball is Round are on to something. The BBC price of survey football survey does leave many unanswered questions – my own observation would be that it ignores concessionary prices for groups such as the U18s, over 65’s and people with a disability, something which is crucial when looking at clubs reaching out to the next generation and more disadvantaged groups. But before being too tough on the BBC survey what needs to be considered are the questions of resources, complexity and proportionality. Ticket pricing is a complex issue. To me this is a sign that – rightly or wrongly – clubs have a far more nuanced view of their target market and how to maximise this revenue stream.

This complexity, as we have seen, makes any attempt to compare a large number of clubs in a consistent manner difficult. Even something as simple as the price of a pie can be nuanced as the pies will vary in both size and quality, whilst the price of pies tell you nothing about the cost of sausage rolls, or other hot snacks. You do though have to start somewhere and in this endeavour the BBC survey, for my part, gets things broadly right by providing solid points of comparison and producing information which can be (unlike many matchday pies) easily digested.

Sholing v AFC Totton: Russell Cotes Cup 1st Round

30 Oct

Sholing Totton

Although I’d put it in my diary and cleared it in advance with the other half an hour to go until kick-off I was trying to come up with excuses not to go; I felt a spot of rain, it’ll be too cold, it’ll be two reserve teams playing in a competition no one wants to win anyway…..

Paradoxically this last excuse is the reason why I decided to go in the first place. Not to see a reserve team, but to get up close to one of Hampshire football’s most unfancied cup tournaments, the Russell Cotes Cup. I’ve developed something of a fascination with the kind of tournaments no one loves; To me they’re a little like derelict, or semi-derelict buildings which hide often long and rich histories, yielding up stories to those curious enough to poke around.

The history of the Russell Cotes has become more obscured than most. Whilst the Hampshire Senior Cup has a Wikipedia page featuring a list of winners stretching back to the first final – won by Woolston Works in 1888 – there is no such page for the Russell Cotes. Both Google and the website of the Hampshire Football Association fails to yield any further clues so it is pure speculation on my part that the cup has some kind of connection to the one-time prominent Bournemouth resident Merton Russell-Cotes. In its time it was also piece of silverware which had some status and in 1983 formed the final piece of the glorious trinity for a Sholing based team of the past, Sholing Sports, when they defeated Waterlooville in the final, having already won the Hampshire League and Senior Cup.

These days the contest carries rather less prestige. In 2014 cup-holders Gosport Borough withdrew at the quarter-final stage after being told they could not use on-loan players whilst that same year finalists Farnborough were removed from the competition for fielding players who did not have a senior team registration, leading to the re-instatement of the team they defeated in the semi-final, AFC Portchester, who promptly went on to win the cup.

Ahead of this evenings game Sholing manager Dave Diaper had telephoned his opposite number to tell him he would be fielding a team of youngsters with a smattering of fringe players and first-teamers – In fact no fewer than five Sholing players would be making their first-team debuts.

The call which Diaper said he had made out of courtesy appeared not to have influenced Steve Hollick’s selection as Southern league Totton arrived with a strong side. It was little surprise then that Totton took the game to their hosts sustaining the pressure throughout the first half hour. The Sholing kids defended valiantly, but the Stags eventually got their reward on 31 minutes when a Sholing defender appeared to be suckered into making a foul in a dangerous position and the subsequent free-kick was duly headed in.

It was a surprise though that come half time that Sholing were 2-1 up with two goals against the run of play; first a cross-cum-shot which eluded the Totton ‘keeper and the second the result of a piece of penalty area slapstick from the Totton goalkeeper and one of his defenders with Sholing’s Lukas Sabo being the grateful recipient.

In the second half things were a little different and Sholing, who had lacked fluidity going forward in the first half, looked a much more dangerous proposition as they looked to put the increasingly ragged visitors to the sword. Sholing’s third came soon after the re-start when a slick through ball left James Davis one-on-one with the Totton ‘keeper. With the goal sparking a civil war among the Totton back line, it was clear from this point there would be no way back.

By the time substitute Jamie Bulpitt slammed in a 30-yard volley on the 60 minute mark Totton, currently fourth-to-bottom in the Southern League South and West, looked as if they would be grateful for the chance to concentrate on the league. The did manage a late rally with a goal on 86 minutes and a shot which left the crossbar rattling that had it gone in may have set up a tense finale to what had been an already entertaining game… and who knows Sholing may go all the way.

Sholings match report can be found here

Sholing Sports: A history

25 Sep

For the past year, or so I’ve been putting together a history of Sholing Sports Football Club. This project stemmed mainly from my curiosity about the side who in their time were one of Hampshire’s top amateur sides with several Hampshire Senior Cup titles and Russell Cotes Cup titles to their name as well as a number of Hampshire League championships. I’ve put this all together into a book which is available on Amazon for £2.75. The following is a brief extract about the club in the early1920s when it was known as Sholing Athletic and reveals a fascinating link between Sholing and Herbert Chapman’s famous Arsenal side.

ss1970s

In his revealing history of football in the area Bitterne Football A Glimpse at the Past  Ken Prior mentions that Athletic had a reputation as being a ‘nursery’ club with a number of players going on to better things. One Athletic player he mentions, Callaghan, went on to play for Merthyr Town, then in the football league, in the 1920s. Another, Sam Meston, joined Southampton from Athletic in 1922, before going on to play for Gillingham and Everton. One particular Athletic player though stands out head-and-shoulders among the Sholing alumni; Described in Chalk & Holley’s Alphabet of the Saints as “Without doubt one of the best full-backs to ever grace the Dell” Peartree-born Tom Parker joined Southampton in 1918 and distinguishing himself at the Saints subsequently joined Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal. Parker went on to captain the Arsenal side in their FA Cup final win of 1930 in addition to the League championship in 1931. Parker also holds the record for most consecutive appearances for Arsenal, playing an uninterrupted 172 games from April 1926 until December 1929.

The period following the first-world-war was a successful one for Athletic who in 1920 claimed the double of the Southampton Senior League title and the Southampton Senior Cup – the first of three consecutive victories in the latter tournament. Simultaneously the reserves weighed in by claiming the Junior Division ‘B’ championship. This success in the Southampton League led to a bigger stage and in 1920-21 the club entered, for the first time in their history, the Hampshire League. In their first season Athletic finished first place in the nine-team East Division – a division populated largely by reserve sides including the reserve sides of Salisbury City, Thornycrofts (Woolston), Andover, Winchester City and Basingstoke. This secured Athletic promotion to the county top flight and in their first season, 1921-22 Athletic acquitted themselves well finishing a respectable 6th out of 15.

The 1922-23 season saw Athletic go one better to finish 5th out of 17 in the league, but it was most memorable for the sides run in the Hampshire Senior Cup……

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